Solnit Chapters 6 and 7

21 Feb

Solnit Chapter 6: Woolf’s Darkness

Author Virginia Woolf once said “The future is dark, which is the best thing the future can be, I think,” (79) Solnit opens this chapter with this journal quote by Virginia Woolf, an influential English writer during the 20th century. Solnit states that “It’s an extraordinary declaration, asserting that the unknown need not be turned into known through false divination or the projection of grim political or ideological narratives; it’s a celebration of darkness, willing – as that “I think” indicates – to be uncertain even about its own assertion.”(Solnit 80) What do you think Solnit means by this and/or what do you think about this quote? She then describes the state of the world when Woolf wrote this, referencing events such as the First World War, the occupation of Belgium, and the abysmal state of the U.S. economy. This puts the meaning of “darkness” in perspective, and illuminates the obscurity and unknown nature of darkness. 

Solnit highlights the idea that like in darkness, there is so much that we do not know. Solnit says that “we know less when we erroneously think we know than when we recognize that we don’t.” (82) To Solnit, Virginia Woolf represents this idea of venturing into the unknown, or “to step a little beyond the proprieties of her class and time.” (83) Solnit then references writer Susan Sontag’s ideas about photography, war, and unseen suffering. Solnit and Sontag discussed darkness again in one instance when Solnit visited Sontag, with Solnit arguing that “you don’t know if your actions are futile; that you don’t have the memory of the future; that the future is indeed dark, which is the best thing it could be; and that, in the end, we always act in the dark” (86) The repercussions of action are unforeseeable until they happen, either sooner or later. Solnit then references her work at the Nevada Test Site, advocating against the nuclear arms race. To her, the test site is “a place of great convergence and collision” (87), and that juxtaposition, like that of Sontag and Woolf,  “taught her to write.” (87) 

The chapter also discusses hope, despair, and certainty. Solnit jumps to poet John Keats and “the wandering of imagination and to an understanding that is creation itself” (88), connecting him to Woolf. Solnit then references introspection and how it is “often portrayed as an indoor, solitary thing, the monk in his cell, the writer at her desk.” (90) However, Woolf does not agree with that, writing of the home, “For there we sit surrounded by objects which enforce the memories of our own experience.” (90) Woolf also mentioned a “shell-like covering which our souls have excreted to house themselves” which Solnit connected to the idea of the “shell of home” that is “a prison of sorts.”(90) She continues with this idea of space, urban versus public, and how space can be a refuge for escaping “the bonds and binds of individual identity.” (91) 

Finally, in the last section of this chapter, Solnit mentions how Woolf advocated for individual liberties, especially for women. Solnit says that Woolf demanded liberation for women in order so that women could have “full freedom to roam, geographically and imaginatively.” (95) Solnit believes that Woolf is a revolutionary, despite flaws such as antisemitism and racism. She ends the chapter talking about revolt, and how she believes Woolf gave us “a compass by which to get lost.” (99)

Solnit Chapter 7: Cassandra Among the Creeps

Solnit begins the chapter by summarizing the story of Cassandra, the daughter of the King of Troy who told the truth but was not believed. She connects this story to the modern-day discourse on gender because the credibility of women is often doubted. She then references the negative comments that women such as Sandra Fluke and Rachel Carson have faced for advocating for something that matters to them because historically, women have not been expected to be vocal. This concept dates back to ancient Greece, where the term hysteria derived from the Greek word for “uterus”. Solnit explains that “the extreme emotional state it denotes was once thought to be due to a wandering womb; men were by definition exempt from this diagnosis that now just means being incoherent, overwrought, and maybe confused.” (105) The idea of women being deemed hysterical for simply speaking up is deeply rooted in history and has caused the legacy of misogyny that we encounter today. Solnit references Sigmund Freud’s treatment of patients, and how he stopped listening to the experiences of sexual abuse of female patients because they didn’t support his hypothesis. Psychiatrist Judith Herman said that Freud “insisted that women imagined and longed for the abusive sexual encounters of which they complained.” (106) Women have been silenced for speaking up about abuse and even threatened. 

Solnit emphasizes the “revolutionary changes of the 1980s” (108), as it was an important time for change in the world, in the workplace, the home, and more. Solnit says that “the feminism of that era is often dismissed as grimly antisex because it pointed out that sex is an arena of power and that power is liable to abuse” (108). Sex is an arena of power, as evidenced by Clarence Thomas’s actions against Anita Hill. As her boss, he was in the position of power and tried to utilize that to dominate Ms. Hill. After speaking out, she was verbally attacked and even blamed. Hill is credited with “launching a revolution in recognition of and response to workplace sexual harassment”, which is so common due to the historically rooted power dynamic between men and women. Women, like Cassandra, have been doubted and portrayed as a liar because of their womanhood that has been seen as inferior.

Reflection Questions:

  1. In chapter 6, Solnit responds to the Virginia Woolf quote about darkness saying “It’s an extraordinary declaration, asserting that the unknown need not be turned into known through false divination or the projection of grim political or ideological narratives; it’s a celebration of darkness, willing – as that “I think” indicates – to be uncertain even about its own assertion.”(Solnit 80) What do you think Solnit means by this and/or what do you think about this quote?
  2. Personally, I found chapter 6 to be more difficult to read than the others because the content was more abstract. How did you feel about this/what was your favorite or least favorite part of the chapter?
  3. What are some examples that you have heard of surrounding workplace harassment? Personally, I thought of the MeToo Movement especially in the second half of the chapter.

4 Replies to “Solnit Chapters 6 and 7

  1. I do completely agree with the idea the Chapter 6: Woolf’s Darkness: embracing the inexplicable was more abstract and unconventional. When Solnit quotes Virginia Woolf, she explains that the darkness is the best that the future can be meaning that it is better to not know what is to come than to create false narratives of what we think the future hold. I agree to her response to some extent, because as we should not create false declarations regarding the future, I think that progress begins with the imagination and optimism. I think imagining what we want is not always bad. I enjoyed Woolfe’s liberation that ties together the chapter. She speaks on the liberation of women. Women deserved the freedom to roam but also how women stand in the way of their own liberation. In Chapter 7, Cassandra Among Creeps poses some controversial gendered issues regarding the credibility of women that stems from the stigma of female inferiority. The misogynistic ideologies that women are hysterical and the fact that these diagnoses are deemed by men. This absurd idea has grown into a female stereotype that has created obstacles for females. The reports of sexual abuse and assault are given as examples, as a moment when a woman must give her word against a man. One example that came to mind when reading this was the idea that women are too emotional to hold office. The stereotype that women are irrational and hysterical have cause false implications regarding the workplace in politics. Women have endured so much abuse from their male counterparts, or superiors due to this falsified stereotype of women. Cassandra becomes a metaphor for those women who have loss credibility behind any word a woman speaks. Solnit provides countless examples of where history has shown the reality of women suffering from asserting rights over our own bodies and how we can take that power back.

  2. I found Solnit’s response to Wolf’s quote very interesting. I agree that there’s a beauty in embracing the unknown to not create false narratives and live through this celebration of darkness. Yet, I find that at times it is essential to create these false narratives. In times where the present seems darker than the future, embracing your imagination and creating these expectations is pivotal. One thing that one should always have in mind is that these narratives hold a high degree of uncertainty. The matters raised in Chapter 7 are still pressing issues in women’s everyday work lives. Incidents that come to mind when I read how misogyny greatly affects women’s chances in attaining possession of power is the 2016 election with Hillary Clinton. The 2016 election was a tight race but one cannot deny that sexism and misogyny played a big role in Clinton’s loss. As Solnit highlighted, women are associated with hysteria, and many claimed that women in such a big possession of power could be dangerous. Women running for any position of power have to face a high/double standard in nearly all aspects of their lives compare to men.

  3. I found the Virginia Woolf quote reference and Solnit’s response in Chapter 6 quite engaging. In response to Woolf’s quote, Solnit expresses that she agrees with the notion that darkness is beneficial. She believes that the unknown is something to leave alone in its most natural state. It is better not to know than to entirely misconstrue and pervert the actual explanation with politics and ideologies. Must accept and appreciate the fact that there are somethings that will remain in the dark. To a certain extent, I agree with this quote. I feel that it is not important that society as a whole knows everything about life especially if the known will turn into something highly political and perverted when its original intention was the opposite. I feel that it is okay to be curious about the unknown but I understand that it is not necessary to have this knowledge if it is not accurate. I think I may feel this way due to the way elitism and class have almost always played a role in education and knowledge as a whole. However, I don’t believe that people should always be content without knowing especially if it is quite valuable to the advance of society.

    Personally, when I think of workplace harassment and gender equality as a whole, I think of the Documentary we watched Feminist; What Were They Thinking? I think of Dolly Parton’s song 9 to 5 and how in the music video, the women were getting revenge on their bosses and men who used their power to exploit and degrade them at their jobs.

  4. I found your analysis of the chapter six to be provoking especially as I found it difficult to sift through the obscurity of some of Solnit’s points. Chapter six revolved around the interactions with the “unknown” and how to navigate it by viewing it with a sense of potential rather than attempt to predict and force it to behave in a certain manner. In regard to your third question, I found Solnit’s use of Cassandra also provoked the events involving the MeToo movement especially the situation at Fox News. Although hosts such as Ed Henry, Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Howard Kurtz, were charged in a lawsuit for sexual harassment (one woman also filed a rape case), the majority of them remained in significant power and many people wrote off the plaintiffs through similar tactics as Solnit described. They were constantly denied of legitimacy and within more outspoken supporters of the Fox hosts, the women were called a number of offensive names and some people even said they should have been “grateful.” Sadly, this scenario does not trigger any shock as it follows the pattern of numerous sexual harassment lawsuits both preceding and following it. In many of the women’s situations, the male offenders were in positions of power over them in the workplace and they used that to force the women into disturbing scenarios. As Solnit describes, the women lost credibility because they were “asserting rights over [their] own [bodies]” (Solnit 117).

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